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05BANGKOK1038 SCENESETTER FOR VISIT OF CDR SEVENTH FLEET VADM GREENERT

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“26701”,”2/9/2005 9:58″,”05BANGKOK1038″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 001038

 

SIPDIS

 

SEVENTH FLEET FOR VADM GREENERT

OSD FOR OSD/ISA (STERN AND POWERS)

PACOM FOR FPA HUSO

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/02/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, MARR, TH, Scenesetter

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR VISIT OF CDR SEVENTH FLEET VADM

GREENERT

 

Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce. Reason 1.4 (a and d)

 

SUMMARY

 

1. (C) Admiral Greenert, your visit to Bangkok and Phuket

will come as we are winding down the critical U.S. military

role in providing assistance to Thailand and the other

tsunami-hit nations in the region. Your meetings with senior

 

SIPDIS

Thai officials follow on the heels of visits by a number of

senior Americans — then-Secretary of State Powell, Deputy

Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz and Admiral Fargo — and will

 

SIPDIS

allow you to echo the theme of their visits: the United

States remains engaged in Southeast Asia and is committed to

our treaty obligations here. Your staff talks will allow you

to drive home a key lesson learned: the quick ramping up of

our regional hub at Utapao Royal Thai Navy Air Base and our

military\’s ability to interact rapidly with Thai counterparts

is a direct result of decades of joint combined exercises,

training and cooperation between Thailand and the United

States. While strong on the eve of the tsunami, our combined

experience over the past six weeks has only enhanced our

links and relations with Thai civilian and military leaders.

You can also discuss with your Thai Navy counterparts the

extent of the damage caused to the Thai Navy base at Phang

Nga, Thailand\’s primary facility on the Andaman Sea, and

explore ways we can improve links between our navies. By

pointing out the quick combined response to the tsunami made

by USN and Thai SEALS, you can underscore the benefits of

Special Forces training. End Summary

 

TSUNAMI AFTERMATH

 

SIPDIS

 

2. (U) The massive rescue and recovery operation undertaken

by the U.S. military as a result of the December 26 tsunami

is historic. Mercifully, U.S. casualties are much lighter

than those suffered by other countries. Thousands of Thai,

Europeans and other Asians were killed in the Phuket area —

a haven for vacationers during the holiday season. Total

fatalities continue to rise — Thai officials privately say

they expect the final death toll to top 8,000. One of the

most devastated areas in Thailand was the Phang Nga Naval

Base. Phang Nga represents the only strategic naval facility

on Thailand\’s west coast. Pier facilities, the water

treatment plant, barracks and communications capabilities

were badly damaged by the tsunami. Additionally, a patrol

boat was sunk and a frigate was beached by the tsunami. We

have provided a technical assessment to the Thai suggesting

ways to salvage the frigate. The RTN has indicated, however,

that it will undertake the salvage itself. Locating,

identifying and processing the remains of victims of the

tragedy is a key focus of U.S. efforts. The RTG has shown us

and the international community that they are taking careful

steps to identify and preserve bodies.

 

USG RELIEF ASSISTANCE

 

3. (C) U.S. disaster relief efforts, led by the U.S.

military, have had an immediate impact on affected areas in

Thailand. III MEF Commander, USMC Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman,

is the commanding general of Combined Support Force 536 (CSF

536), currently based out of Utapao Royal Thai Naval Air

Base. CSF 536 worked closely with the Embassy and JUSMAGTHAI

to ensure that requests for assistance were promptly

addressed and to assist coordination of relief from civilian

agencies, NGOs and corporate donors. The Royal Thai Armed

Forces granted the U.S. military blanket overflight

clearances for relief operations in the region, including for

aircraft from the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group which

operated off Sumatra. In addition to permitting our use of

Utapao, the Royal Thai Government integrated Thai officers

into the CSF staff where needed. During the height of

operations, over 1800 USG personnel operated out of Utapao.

We distributed over 660,000 pounds of supplies within

Thailand including medicine, food, dry ice and body bags.

USAF C-130s made regular delivery runs from Utapao and

Bangkok to affected areas for time sensitive supplies while

bulk shipments tended to go overland. USN P-3s positioned at

Utapao conducted search and rescue missions in the vicinity

of Thailand and in the region. Teams made up of medical

specialists from the CDC, the Armed Forces Research Institute

of Medical Science and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command

in Hawaii were also deployed to Thailand to assist with

victim identification. U.S. Navy SEALS and a representative

from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance worked closely

with Thai military units to search for the remains of

American and other victims of the disaster. Embassy Bangkok

provided 24-hour American Citizens Services for weeks after

the crisis, and the Embassy maintains a team in Phuket and

other devastated locations to assist Americans, claim Amcit

remains and coordinate USG relief efforts. USDAO Bangkok

frequently flew C-12 missions responding to specific taskings

and to provide an immediate assessment of the disaster

situation. The aircraft also enabled Embassy and visiting

VIPs to obtain an orientation from the air and to meet on the

ground with local officials coordinating relief.

 

4. (C) CSF 536\’s concept of operations set up Utapao as the

hub for U.S. relief efforts bound for Sri Lanka, Thailand and

Indonesia. In each of those countries, Combined Support

Groups (CSG) were established to interact with the local

government, the U.S. Embassies and the NGO community.

CSG-Thailand was based in Phuket and redeployed on January

22. Since that time, ongoing recovery efforts in Thailand

are being managed by the Embassy and JUSMAGTHAI. A key part

of those efforts is to focus civil affairs projects carried

out under our military exercise authority in Thailand to

assist Thais rebuilding in the devastated areas around

Phuket. We are excited about the COMREL and Project

Handclasp efforts you plan to undertake during the USS Blue

Ridge\’s visit to Phuket later this month as well as similar

activities during future ship visits as they will mesh well

with our overall tsunami assistance efforts.

 

RESPONSE BY THE SEALS

 

5. (C) One of the most visible examples of U.S. military

assistance to Thailand came in the form of SEAL teams

immediately helping in the body recovery effort. It should

be noted that these SEALS were not attached to CSF 536 in the

days after the tsunami struck, they were in Thailand for a

previously scheduled UNDERSEAL combined training exercise.

With assistance from JUSMAGTHAI, they quickly redeployed to

assist relief work. The effort was highly visible, linked in

the Thai media to our efforts under the CSF 536 umbrella and

well received. In fact, Prime Minister Thaksin asked to

accompany the crews on January 7 and was shown on national TV

thanking the SEALS for their assistance. The public

relations benefit of such opportunities to demonstrate the

advantages of our bilateral military relationship are

obvious.

 

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVING LINKS WITH THE THAI NAVY

 

6. (C) Historically, we have had much closer links with the

Royal Thai Army and Royal Thai Air Force than we have had

with the Royal Thai Navy. The RTN is the smallest part of

the Thai military and suffers from budget constraints. In

recent years, the RTN has purchased Chinese equipment,

leading some analysts to conclude that China is attempting to

improve its links to the Thai military through the Thai Navy.

Meanwhile, the RTN is searching for a mission. In recent

months, PACOM has worked with the Thai Navy trying to win RTN

support for the Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI)

and support for anti-piracy efforts aimed at the Strait of

Malacca and elsewhere. In 1997, Thailand purchased from

Spain the VSTOL carrier Chakri Nareubet. At the time, the

RTN indicated they would use the ship as an emergency relief

vessel. Since then, all but one of her Harriers has been

rendered inoperable.

 

7. (C) During his January visit to Thailand, ADM Fargo

suggested to the Royal Thai Supreme Command that using the

Chakri Nareubet as a helicopter carrier might make more

sense. Senior Thai officials liked the idea and asked for

assistance in training Thai helicopter pilots to operate off

the carrier. In conjunction with disaster relief efforts,

continuous daytime embarked helicopter operations were

conducted from the Chakri Nareubet for six weeks. In

addition to these operations, the carrier conducted search

and rescue, remains recovery and medical support missions to

tsunami-devastated Phi Phi island. This deployment

 

SIPDIS

represented the longest such operation ever performed in the

ship\’s brief history. (Note: In May 2004, the USN

demonstrated for the Ministry of Defense missions and

capabilities of the USS Essex (LHD-2) as a model for the

Chakri Nareubet\’s use. End Note.) In light of the tsunami,

it might be fruitful to discuss with your RTN counterparts

joint exercises that could further enhance the RTN\’s ability

to respond to a disaster and to use their carrier more

effectively. In the past, RTN officials have asked American

counterparts for assistance in acquiring new Harriers. If

you receive such a query, we suggest you remind your

interlocutors that our Harriers are committed now and we do

not expect to have any available for Thailand.

 

8. (C) The Cooperative Afloat Readiness and Training

(CARAT) exercise continues to be the RTN\’s premiere exercise

with the USN. This year\’s exercise will focus on RMSI themes

while maintaining proficiency in traditional surface warfare

tactics. This is an encouraging sign that the RTN wishes to

improve bilateral cooperation. While here, you may want to

encourage the RTN to participate in multi-lateral exercises.

Traditionally, Thailand has been reluctant to participate in

multi-lateral exercises such as the Southeast Asia

Cooperation Anti-terrorism event (SEACAT). The Embassy

believes that SEACAT represents the best opportunity to

improve communications and interoperability among navies in

the region.

 

9. (C) As mentioned above, USN SEALS operated heroically

during the tsunami relief effort. Our SEALS have extensive

links with their RTN counterparts and train together

regularly. However, Thai Special Forces in general, and RTN

SEALS in particular, do not have a patron on the senior

command staff to support their training. It would be useful

for you to flag the mutual benefits of having our SEALS and

other special forces working closely together.

 

10. (C) Another issue you might want to raise is our desire

to help the RTN improve facilities at Utapao. A number of

systems, including Utapao\’s antiquated air traffic control

and radar systems should be upgraded. JUSMAGTHAI is working

with PACOM to identify a number of projects which will make

Utapao a more useful facility. In a similar vein, we

understand that the RTN might receive supplemental funding to

upgrade some assets in the wake of the tsunami. You may wish

to probe your interlocutors on this point and remind them

that U.S. equipment has been consistently validated on the

high seas and in combat.

 

11. (U) In 2004, twenty-four U.S. Navy ships visited

Thailand, calling on either Phuket or Sattahip. The visits

by USN/USMC personnel in conjunction with these ship visits

has added a boost to Thailand\’s economy, which was buffeted

by the Bali bombings, SARS and the Asian Bird Flu epidemic.

Our resumption of ship visits following an easing of threat

concerns in the south of the country led to the return to

Phuket of third country navies as well. The Thai business

community fully supports these visits, while law enforcement

is very proactive in ensuring Force Protection requirements

are either met or exceeded. In light of the tsunami-related

devastation to the Phuket area, future ship visits are seen

by the Thais as a symbol of the island\’s recovery from the

disaster.

 

VIOLENCE IN THE SOUTH

 

12. (C) Besides dealing with the tsunami aftermath, Prime

Minister Thaksin Shinawatra\’s biggest domestic challenge is

the unsettled security situation in the southern part of the

country. Southern Thailand, and in particular the three

southernmost Muslim majority provinces of Pattani, Yala and

Narathiwat, has experienced episodic violence since it was

incorporated into the Siamese Kingdom in 1902. However, last

year witnessed a dramatic increase in the level of violence,

with over 500 people killed either by militants or by

security forces. Local Muslim separatist militants have

attacked symbols of Thai and Buddhist authority, and there

continue to be almost daily incidents of violence, notably

even after the tsunami disaster of December 26. Attacks most

often involve isolated shootings of local officials, although

increasingly sophisticated bombing attacks have become more

common. While there is no credible evidence of Jemaah

Islamiyah (JI) or al-Qaeda direction of the violence, there

is concern that they might attempt to exploit the local

violence for their own purposes.

 

13. (C) Thaksin has recently acknowledged that the problem

in Thailand\’s south is not simply the work of criminal gangs

as he once declared, and is an issue that potentially reaches

beyond Thailand\’s borders. Last December, Thaksin claimed

publicly during a radio address that Thai militants are

training in Malaysia and that Indonesian extremists are

instigating some of the violence. This rather clumsy public

assertion apparently deeply offended the two fellow ASEAN

governments. That said, Thaksin is not likely to ask for

direct U.S. assistance as the RTG maintains that the southern

situation is primarily a \”domestic\” issue. Reporting has

consistently pointed out that this violence is directed

strictly at RTG institutions with no evidence of attacks

directed towards foreign or U.S. interests. Additional

reporting shows no migration of the violence north from the

aforementioned southern provinces. In your meeting, Thai

officials may ask you for U.S. equipment and technology such

as UAVs to support efforts to monitor militant movements in

the south. We recommend you be receptive but noncommittal,

and suggest that technical experts follow up. At the same

time, Thaksin — and most Thais — are sensitive about any

perception that the U.S. wants to establish a security

presence in the south.

 

MILITARY COOPERATION

 

14. (C) We conduct a wide range of major exercises and

training programs with Thailand each year, including Cobra

Gold, the annual exercise which in 2004 involved

approximately 13,500 U.S. service members and 6,000 Thais.

Cobra Gold 2005 will be smaller than last year, primarily due

to U.S. commitments elsewhere and the large number of U.S.

forces sent to the region for tsunami relief. Nonetheless,

planning for Cobra Gold 2005 is underway; we expect this

year\’s exercise to be a disaster response training program

involving several thousand U.S. troops. Utapao, currently

being used as the primary staging area for U.S. disaster

relief efforts in the region, is a critical support hub for

U.S. aircraft transiting the region. Over 420 DoD aircraft

use it each year. From January 25 until February 4, we

conducted our largest air exercise with the Thai, Cope Tiger.

This year, F-18\’s from the USS Abraham Lincoln participated.

 

THAILAND AND IRAQ

 

15. (C) Thailand sent troops to Afghanistan as part of OEF

and dispatched two deployments to Iraq as part of OIF. In

December 2003, two Thai soldiers were killed by a car bomb

while on duty in Karbala. Thailand\’s second six-month

deployment of 443 medics and engineers to Iraq ended in

September 2004. Notably, despite RTG sensitivity to the

prospect, participation in OIF did not cause a domestic furor

in Thailand as in other countries. It would be appropriate

for you to thank the Thai for their contribution to OIF and

OEF. Washington has asked us to monitor Thai receptiveness

to making another deployment to Iraq. During your visit, you

may want to ask senior Thai officials whether they expect

Thailand to send more troops to support OIF.

BOYCE

 

Written by thaicables

July 6, 2011 at 7:22 am

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